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NBA’s West playoff race could be even more wild this year

We have that and more in Friday’s NBA newsletter.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Most NBA teams are 14-16 games into the season. A month has gone by since opening night. We’re almost at the 20% mark of the season. And in the Western Conference, some 14 of the 15 teams are still in position to chase a playoff spot.

This isn’t really an exaggeration, either: the No. 14 Timberwolves are 2.5 games out of No. 8 and just 3.5 games out of No. 4. The No. 13 Mavericks are a half-game better and just beat the Jazz -- a 2018 playoff team -- by 50. Four teams are tied at 7-7 at the No. 9 spot. Can you imagine if 12 Western Conference teams finished the season at .500 or better, with four of them missing the playoffs? (Because you’re wondering: the East has seven teams at .500 or better, and four teams essentially out of the playoff chase. If the current pace held, the East would advance one team below .500 to the playoffs while the West would send four teams at .500 or better to the lottery.)

Who is going to drop out of this Western pack? Most would point to the Mavericks (who were approaching calls for tankdom a week ago but rebounded) and Kings (who keep defying gravity). The Timberwolves would be a stronger candidate for a crash if they hadn’t won both games since the Jimmy Butler trade with Karl-Anthony Towns playing like an All-NBA center. The Clippers and Grizzlies have been the best versions of themselves despite offseason doubts. The Spurs survived, and the Pelicans are getting enough from the players around Anthony Davis.

Injuries could totally knock a couple teams out of the race and give us a smaller pool to work from. So could unstoppable regression to the mean. But until that happens, this is a pretty wild and deep race for the playoffs among the entire Western Conference except for the Suns.

Scores

Warriors 86, Rockets 107
Hawks 93, Nuggets 138
Spurs 111, Clippers 116

Schedule

On Friday:
Raptors at Celtics, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Jazz at Sixers, 7 p.m. ET, League Pass
Kings at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass
Blazers at Timberwolves, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass
Bulls at Bucks, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

On Saturday:
Nuggets at Pelicans, 7 p.m. ET, League Pass
Jazz at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Kings at Rockets, 8 p.m. ET, League Pass

On Sunday:
Grizzlies at Timberwolves, 3:30 p.m. ET, League Pass
Warriors at Spurs, 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV

Full schedule here.

Links

Mike Prada with a deep dive video breakdown of Nikola Jokic, the unicorn with the dad bod.

The Rockets acknowledged on Thursday that they are parting ways with Carmelo Anthony. Houston’s front office is trying to put Melo in the best light possible, and it looks like they may try to work out a trade that Melo agrees to instead of putting him on waivers for anyone to think briefly about picking up before letting it pass.

Draymond Green made a statement and refused to answer questions on Thursday; Paul Flannery reads between the lines of Green’s most pertinent quotes. Why the Warriors really suspended Draymond: he cut too deep on the free agency issue. What’s Draymond’s trade value? How the drama shows Stephen Curry’s cultural importance to the Warriors. Nathaniel Friedman on how emotions work in sports. Brian Windhorst calls Durant the most powerful man in basketball.

Zito Madu on the simple beauty of teams blowing huge leads.

Kelly Dwyer on Jimmy Butler’s fit on the Sixers. If you love basketball, you should really subscribe to KD’s The Second Arrangement, such a pleasant email each day.

Joe Vardon spent a day at LeBron’s I Promise School and writes about James’ true legacy.

Zion Williamson’s Duke dunks, ranked.

Part of the Magic’s decent start has been all about Terrence Ross’s triumphant return.

Some awesome Kings fans are raising money for Camp Fire victims. Help out, if you can.

Rob Mahoney on Victor Oladipo. Click.

How the Spurs can fix their post-up problem.

Imani McGee-Stafford of the Atlanta Dream on how hard it is to play basketball in China.

Unionized athletes keep crossing picket lines.

Be excellent to each other.